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Stage Left: Getting to the Theater—or Not

Alright, so, we are now halfway through my stint blogging here at Bitch, which, by and large, has been wonderful. But there is an important aspect to writing about live theater, one I mentioned briefly in my opening post, that I think I need to expand upon. I don't blame anyone for missing what I said about class and musical theater in my introductory post—it was a single throwaway sentence, not immediately relevant to the main point. But the issue has come up in comments a couple of times, which I feel means I should tackle it more bluntly. Here's the thing. I have seen very little live theater. I live in a small city in Ontario where there are perhaps two musicals playing here in any given year, one put on by the students at my university and one by a local community theater group. I do not usually go to either, since beyond my inconvenient location I also have very little money. In my introductory post I mentioned that the primary way I relate to the genre is through the music—through cast albums, through shaky YouTube videos, etc. This is because I—along with many other musical theater fans—have no other option, no other way of engaging with the source material. The assumption that everyone has access to the same resources is a really common one, and one really bound up in classism and privilege. I have seen two shows—one musical and one play—on Broadway, ever, and even that puts me at an advantage over many, many theater fans. Live theater is by its nature a transient medium—no show (with the possible exception of The Phantom of the Opera) will stay open forever. Very few are ever professionally recorded for commercial release. Very few of those are widely available, especially for those like me who rely primarily on the local library. Most of the stage shows I have and will be writing about in this column are no longer open on Broadway, and in many cases have been closed for something like ten years. This is a personal issue to me, and I need to make myself understood. It is simply not possible for me to present a comprehensive, completely informed viewpoint on any one musical. I do not live in the right place, I do not have the money. Even if I did, I would not be able to get to shows that had already closed. Even if I could, seeing a single production does not show me the many other productions of a show that have been mounted—watching a student production of Into the Woods does not allow me to comment on the Broadway staging in any meaningful way. Hard as it may be for some commenters to believe, I do very much appreciate criticism. I appreciate people pointing out where an idea I hold is perhaps ill-conceived or working off a false assumption. Even if I don't personally respond to a comment, rest assured I am thinking about what it has to say. All I am asking is that you recognize that theater is far less accessible than film or books to low-income people and people who don't live in one of the major theater cities (New York, London, Toronto). Don't ask me to do things that are, simply, impossible.

Previously: Thoroughly Modern Racism, or the Problem with Millie, Age on Stage in Stephen Sondheim's Follies

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Comments

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"This is a personal issue to

"This is a personal issue to me, and I need to make myself understood. It is simply not possible for me to present a comprehensive, completely informed viewpoint on any one musical. I do not live in the right place, I do not have the money. Even if I did, I would not be able to get to shows that had already closed. Even if I could, seeing a single production does not show me the many other productions of a show that have been mounted—watching a student production of Into the Woods does not allow me to comment on the Broadway staging in any meaningful way."

This is perhaps the most important sentence in your whole piece. I too am a person who connects with these shows via their cast albums. I love theater, know most of its current it crowd, yet I still feel like the Tonys - which are supposedly mainstream - are an inside joke I'm never going to understand.

Yeah. I watch the Tonys, and

Yeah. I watch the Tonys, and enjoy them, but big parts of them go over my head. Everyone can (assuming they have the financial means) see most of the movies in contention for the major Oscars, but with theatre...it's not like that at all.

And that's why I'm a sad theatre panda

As a theatre director and dramaturg, situations like your's make me incredibly sad. There are so many great theatre pieces in the world, even beyond musicals, and large cities with large regional theatres (like Seattle, where I live) often have ticket deals for lower-income people. But that does not make theatre widely accessible to people in smaller cities, rural areas, etc, and it definitely doesn't mean that the little theatre that does come close by is affordable -- large-scale tours are very costly. I actually moved away from my hometown in the south, not just because of the horrific politics, but because there was only one "professional" theatre in town, and the majority of the people that worked there had to work other jobs for a living. There was no professional ladder to move up, unless I went to a larger city.

You might be interested in this guy's blog: http://theatreideas.blogspot.com/

theater accessibility

One suggestion, if you live near a university (and you may not) is to get their drama department's schedule. I haven't seen a lot of big musicals or productions this way, but I have seen some Shakespeare that was fairly well done and other, more obscure plays I never would have seen otherwise. The prices are usually reasonable, even for the non-university-affiliated, and sometimes even free.

This is too perfect -- I am

This is too perfect -- I am writing my master's dissertation on dance and its archives, and have a whole chapter dedicated to youtube and other online video sources. The truth is that live theatre IS very time and location-specific, and so comes with a whole web of access issues. I see no problem with basing your research on "second-hand" sources, because I feel it is wrong to assume any live experience to be "more" than a recorded one. What if your seat sucks? The actors ad-lib? You fall asleep? There are many ways in which live performance can "fail," and I see no shame in using CDs and other vehicles to learn!